The impacts of sexual violence
Everyone responds differently when impacted by sexual trauma. To speak with an advocate about what you are experiencing and to learn more, call our 24-hour, toll-free crisis line at 319.335.6000.
Impacts on the body
Only a small percentage of sexual assaults lead to any physical injury. However, short and long-term health effects are common for survivors of sexual assault. These could include1:
- Chronic pain and soreness
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Migraines and frequent headaches
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
A lack of support for survivors can often lead to reduction in treatment for conditions related, either directly or indirectly, to an assault.
Impacts on the mind
Sexual assault can greatly impact a survivor’s mental health. As with all forms of trauma, many disclose fearing for their life while being assaulted2. This fear often leads to tonic immobility, or freezing during the assault13. Losing the ability to actively resist the assault can lead to self-blame and shame that the assault occurred. Other common mental health issues that surface or are exacerbated after an assault are:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Frequent disassociation
- Disordered eating
- Disordered sleep
- Suicidal ideation
- Changes in sexual desire
Believing survivors increases the chances of them seeking help and support after an assault.
Impacts on social life
We know that perpetrators are more likely to sexually assault someone they are intimate (70% of assaults14) or acquainted with (85% of assaults15). The impacts of knowing and trusting a perpetrator before an assault, combined with the potential for mental health issues can lead to:
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Reduced interest in once enjoyed activities
- Strained relationships in various aspects of life
- Fear of intimacy
- Difficulty trusting individuals
Receiving negative support, even without disclosing to loved ones, can lead to further withdrawal from social life and activities.
Impacts on friends, family and loved ones
Many loved ones often feel guilty that they were not able to prevent the sexual assault. This is a normal reaction. Please know that RVAP serves loved one’s to survivors. Processing your own pain and guilt with a professional even if you are not the primary victim can help your well-being as well as your ability to provide support to the victim.
Believing the victim and supporting their healing as well as yours is a meaningful way to help the victim after a sexual assault16.
For references, click here.